Who Killed Col. James Sabow?

Was Marine Corps Col. James Sabow the victim of a military cover-up?

In his court brief, Sheehan listed Mr. X's assertions as Nos. 113-116 of 155 "factual contentions." According to that brief, Mr. X saw "three civilian-dressed employees of the defendant United States" enter Sabow's back yard. The trio "then altered the Sabow death crime scene" by "removing a blood-spattered wooden club" that lay in the grass. Sheehan alleged two of the three "then exited the back yard of the Sabow home through the front gate." The third man "exited the Sabow back yard with the blood-spattered wooden club, through the back yard of chief of staff Underwood."

Dr. Sabow's obsession with his brother's death didn't end with the dismissal of his lawsuit. A few years ago, Dr. Sabow broke his leg after collapsing from exhaustion he says was brought on by his years-long investigation, resulting in his confinement to a wheelchair. He no longer practices medicine. He stays at home, does some medical consulting—and ruthlessly follows a trail of evidence he says leads to only one conclusion: his brother was murdered, and the U.S. government is covering it up.

No piece of evidence, no inconsistency in testimony is too small to escape his attention. While his body slows, his mind is exercised by a single overwhelming obsession: proving his brother was murdered.

Just a simple phone call to touch base with Dr. Sabow can turn into a marathon monologue in which the doctor piles up the minutiae of evidence into a mountainous conspiracy that casts its shadow across the republic.

Take, for example, a story that involves one of Sabow's friends, Lieutenant Colonel Gary Albin. Fifteen minutes after Sally left for church at 8:30 on the morning of Jan. 22, Albin showed up at the Sabows' to return a flight-test booklet he had borrowed. Albin's visit occurred at the estimated time of Sabow's death—8:45 a.m. When Albin knocked, he heard no answer. Seeing Sabow's Corvette parked in the driveway, Albin says, he lingered, figuring Sabow was taking a shower. After standing on the front porch for 10 minutes, Albin saw Underwood come out of his front door, holding a cup of coffee.

In Dr. Sabow's version of the chance meeting, Underwood told Albin that the Sabows had left to go to the base exchange. To Dr. Sabow, this is revealing because Underwood told NCIS investigators that he had bumped into Albin while on his way to have coffee with Sabow. Why, Dr. Sabow asks, would Underwood say that if he told Albin the couple had already left?

Dr. Sabow says this inconsistency clearly shows that Underwood was lying, and moreover that the colonel had played some role in his brother's death. As Dr. Sabow sees it, Underwood lied to Albin about Colonel Sabow's whereabouts because he had to come up with a pretext to get Albin away from the murder scene.

But there's a much less ominous explanation for Underwood's behavior on the morning of Sabow's death. It is provided by Albin himself, who retired from the Marine Corps in 1991. In a recent interview with the Weekly, Albin stated that Underwood didn't seem nervous, nor did he appear to be in any kind of rush when Albin saw him coming out of his house. More important, Albin says, he remembers Underwood telling him only that Sabow and Sally "might" have gone to the base exchange—a reasonable guess in Albin's mind, given that her car was missing from the driveway.

Albin doesn't believe Underwood had anything to do with Sabow's death. "Knowing Colonel Sabow, I personally think he committed suicide," he explained. "He was that kind of a Napoleonic-type guy. Even though the charges against him weren't so egregious, they would have ended his career in the military. I think that he felt dejected to a point where he felt committing suicide would be the manly thing to do."

Sitting in a friend's house on Balboa Island during a break from the recent trial, Sally watched as the yachts of the idle rich floated by just yards from the window. Not once during the interview did her face, hollowed out by years of grief, crack into a smile. While Dr. Sabow's obsession with his brother's death has all but taken over his life, Sally constantly struggles to put the past behind her.

After her husband's death nine years ago, Sally left El Toro and moved to Arizona. Last year, she completed 12 months of training and got her license to work as a registered nurse. She said those classes kept her from staying as involved in the family's lawsuit as her brother-in-law did. But Sally said she also lacks the mental energy to keep pursuing events and memories that so violently turned her world upside-down.

Once a self-described "staunch Republican" and "one of America's 10 most patriotic wives," Sally now says she has lost all faith in the system. "I will never salute the flag again," she declared, shaking her head. "Now I can't stand to look at people in uniform. I think the military is a mockery. They brainwash people. It's the most pathetic organization in the world."

While Sally says she is saddest for her children, she admits that her own recovery is still a long way off. "Every day, I wake up and there's such pain," she said. "It's a very quiet, seeping sore. It just goes and goes. . . . It's a very secret misery."

Research assistance provided by Marcelo C. Imbert.
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